EPL

'Like Ronaldinho', 'only Modric...' – Guimaraes marvels at Willock after outrageous assist

By Sports Desk April 24, 2023

Joe Willock was compared to Ronaldinho and Luka Modric after a sparkling performance in Newcastle United's rout of Tottenham that included one of the assists of the season.

Newcastle team-mate Bruno Guimaraes has dubbed the midfielder "Willockinho", and he more than lived up to that nickname on Sunday.

Willock, who coach Eddie Howe is backing for an England call-up, produced perhaps the moment of the match in a 6-1 win, his sensational outside-of-the-boot pass sending Alexander Isak away for the fourth of five goals in the first 21 minutes.

That was Willock's fifth assist in the Premier League this season to go with three goals as one of the key men in a Newcastle team closing on Champions League qualification.

Only Kieran Trippier (five) and Guimaraes (four) created more than Willock's three chances against Spurs, and the Brazil international was suitably impressed.

Guimaraes told reporters: "Willockinho, with his new hair today... he looked like Ronaldinho and played like him, too. 

"An amazing through ball for [Isak's] goal. What a pass. Only Modric can play a pass like that. It was amazing."

Newcastle climbed back up to third with the win, now six points ahead of their fifth-placed opponents and still with a game in hand.

Liverpool and Brighton and Hove Albion are perhaps better placed to challenge Newcastle than Tottenham, though, and Guimaraes knows the job is not yet done.

"Of course we are thinking about the Champions League, but let's take it step by step," he said.

"We can do it, of course, but there's still seven games to go. We started this way – now let's finish the season this way."

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  • The Numbers Game: England out to book last-16 spot at Euro 2024 The Numbers Game: England out to book last-16 spot at Euro 2024

    England know that the last 16 of Euro 2024 is within touching distance as they head into a reunion with Denmark.

    The Three Lions beat the Danes in the semi-finals at Euro 2020, coming from behind to win 2-1 after extra time.

    Harry Kane was England's hero as he converted a penalty winner, though spot-kicks would of course go on to prove to be their downfall in the final against Italy.

    There is less on the line when England face Denmark again on Thursday, though Gareth Southgate's team will progress to the knockout stage should they win.

    Here, we use Opta data to preview the Group C clash.

    What's expected?

    England are forecasted to win this one, with the Opta supercomputer handing them a 54.5 per cent chance of getting the job done in Frankfurt.

    Denmark are sure to be no pushovers, though, and have a 20.6 per cent win likelihood, with the draw threat at 25 per cent.

    This will be the fourth encounter between Denmark and England at a major tournament. Three of those will have come at the Euros, and one at the 2002 World Cup.

    Denmark won none of the previous three meetings (D1 L2), scoring only one goal in the process, Mikkel Damsgaard's free-kick in the semi-final of Euro 2020.

    There have only been five goals scored in the last four meetings between Denmark (two) and England (three) in all competitions.

    Meanwhile, the Three Lions only had 12 touches in Serbia's box in their 1-0 win on MD1, their lowest total of touches in the opposition box in a European Championship game since 2012 against Ukraine (also 12).

    Indeed, the England v Serbia match saw only 11 shots (five for England, six for Serbia) – that tally is the lowest on record in a European Championship match, fewer than every one of the other 322 matches in the competition since 1980.

    England have also kept a clean sheet in each of their last five group-stage matches at the European Championship finals, the longest such run in the competition's history.

    So, this game is probably not one to expect too many goals in.

    Bellingham a safe bet but can Foden and Kane flourish?

    Jude Bellingham came into Euro 2024 with the pressure and hype ramped right up. He is the face of this England squad, and there is an onus on him to deliver.

    Well, he started on the right foot, scoring in the 13th minute on Sunday to seal that 1-0 victory over Serbia.

    Bellingham displayed the kind of chance-sniffing instinct he has demonstrated so brilliantly during his first season at Real Madrid, getting on the end of Bukayo Saka's deflected cross and powering home with his head.

    Having become the first player to play at two European Championship tournaments before the age of 21, he is also the second England player to score at two major tournaments before turning 21 (also scored vs Iran at the 2022 World Cup), along with Michael Owen, who scored at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000.

    Bellingham was crucial in every aspect against Serbia. He led England for touches (93), while only Declan Rice (81) and Kyle Walker (77) attempted more passes than the 20-year-old, who also competed in a team-leading 16 duels, winning 10 of them, and was successful with two of his three tackles.

    Southgate's system seems designed to allow Bellingham to flourish, though has that come at the expense of Phil Foden?

    The Manchester City star struggled when he did find space against Serbia, though there is perhaps a case that the Premier League Player of the Year is being shoehorned in out of position, too.

    Kane, meanwhile, had just two touches in the opening 45 minutes, before finishing with 24 – exactly half that of Jordan Pickford and the lowest of any England outfielder who started the match. The Bayern Munich striker did have a header tipped onto the crossbar, but that was his only chance of the game. Southgate needs to get him more service.

    England average 1.9 goals per game under Southgate at major tournaments, the best ratio of any Three Lions boss, but there could be so much more to come from this star-studded attack.

    Christian the Great (Dane)

    Christian Eriksen scored his maiden goal at the European Championship in Denmark's 1-1 draw with Slovenia.

    At 32 years and 123 days old, he became the oldest Dane to score at the Euros and oldest at a major tournament since 33-year-old Jon Dahl Tomasson at the 2010 World Cup.

    It was a clever run and deft finish from the Manchester United playmaker, who created seven chances from set-pieces in the match, the most by a player in a European Championship fixture since Gary McAllister in 1992 for Scotland against Germany (eight).

    Getting Eriksen into dangerous positions has to be the gameplan for Kasper Hjulmand's team, who completed 583 passes and enjoyed an 89 per cent passing accuracy against Slovenia, both record highs for the Danes that Opta has on record (since 1980) at the European Championship.

    Despite their run to the last four three years ago, Denmark have won just one of their last six group stage games at the Euros (D1 L4), beating Russia 4-1 at Euro 2020 to ensure qualification to the round of 16.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Denmark - Rasmus Hojlund 

    Eriksen will be the one England have to stop influencing the match in midfield, but John Stones and Marc Guehi – should they start – will have to be on high alert to keep Man United's Hojlund under wraps, too.

    He only had one shot against Slovenia, which he did get on target, but he is a quality finisher and can certainly do some damage.

    England - Phil Foden

    Foden created just one chance in a subdued performance against Serbia, but there can be no doubting his quality.

    Get him more involved, and in fairness, Foden has to sharpen up when he does get on the ball, and England will surely have far too much for Denmark's defence.

  • The Numbers Game: Euro 2024 heavyweights Spain and Italy face off in group of death The Numbers Game: Euro 2024 heavyweights Spain and Italy face off in group of death

    Spain and reigning European champions Italy both won their opening matches at Euro 2024, and will now face off in Gelsenkirchen on Thursday. 

    But both sides endured differing performances in their respective encounters, with La Roja cruising to a 3-0 victory over Croatia to condemn their opponents to joint-heaviest ever defeat at a major international tournament. 

    However, Luciano Spalletti's pre-match words would still have been ringing in his Italy players' ears when Nedim Bajrami's goal after 23 seconds gave Albania a shock lead - the fastest goal ever scored at the European Championships. 

    Yet two goals in five minutes from Alessandro Bastoni and Nicolo Barella ensured the Italians' quest of becoming the second team to win back-to-back Euros tournaments after Thursday's opponents did in 2008 and 2012. 

    This will be the 11th encounter between Spain and Italy at a major tournament, across the Euros (eight) and World Cup (three), a record between two European nations.

    It’s the fifth consecutive European Championship tournament at which they’ve met going back to 2008, also a record.

    Here, we delve into the Opta data to preview Thursday's game.

    What's expected?  

    Despite Italy only losing one of their 10 matches against Spain in the Euros and World Cup (W4 D5) - that sole defeat came in the final at Euro 2012 - La Roja are given a 45.8 per cent chance of making it two wins from two at Euro 2024.

    However, Spain has had the better of their previous meetings with Italy, winning their last two encounters, both in the Nations League, but have never won three consecutive matches against the Azzurri. 

    La Roja has also prevailed in all three of their previous European Championship meetings with the reigning champions of the competition, reaching the final in each edition. 

    The Spanish will take confidence from their opening display against Croatia, having outperformed their expected goals (xG) by 0.99 per cent, but will be hopeful of converting more of their big chances, having missed four in Berlin. 

     

    Italy was also able to outscore their xG, but by a smaller margin of 0.44, but managed just five shots on target against Albania from the 17 they attempted. 

    As in many major tournaments, being clinical could prove decisive, and this group in particular, could be the difference between staying in Germany or packing your bags for the next flight home. 

    Calafiori and Bastoni taking the mantle from Chiellini and Bonucci

    Their comeback success against Albania saw them win their opening encounter in four consecutive European Championships and the World Cup for the first time in their history, and they will look to build on that against the Spanish.

    The Italians have often relied on the experience and know-how of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci to lay a solid foundation for success but entered Euro 2024 with the sixth-youngest squad (26.5). 

    Much was said of Spalletti's squad selection heading into the tournament, with many believing they would be proved right when they were pegged back early on against Albania. 

    But the exuberance of youth shone through, particularly in Riccardo Calafiori, who starred in Bologna's qualification for the Champions League in the 2023-24 season, and then  shined on the international stage in his third appearance for his nation. 

    2 - Riccardo #Calafiori (22 years and 27 days) is the second youngest Italy’s defender to play a match in European Championships history, after Paolo Maldini (19 years and 350 days, on 10th June 1988 against Germany). Impulse. #EURo2024 #ITAALB #ItaliaAlbania pic.twitter.com/2kKWNHW1iS

    — OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) June 15, 2024

    The 22-year-old had the joint-most interceptions (three), most duels won (six), and won all three of his aerial duels against a physical Albania side on his international tournament debut. 

    Partnering with Bastoni, who scored the Italian's equaliser against Albania, Spalletti may have found a new partnership that sticks with the defensive values that were pivotal to their success in recent years. 

    No more Tiik-taka?

    La Roja, over the years, have been renowned for their possession play during their international successes, but their triumph over Croatia saw them find a different way to win. 

    Spain had less possession than their opponents (47 per cent) for the first time in a competitive match since the Euro 2008 final against Germany (46 per cent), ending a run of 136 games in which they had more of the ball.

    With a midfield trio of Rodri, Fabian Ruiz, and Pedri, Luis de la Fuente has a composed blend of experience and youth, with the discipline and composure instilled within them at club level to ensure they are not passing for passing sake. 

    All three averaged a pass completion above 87 per cent, with Rodri (87.7 per cent) the least efficient in that regard. But accompanying their talented midfield is an exciting front line who were at their clinical best against Croatia. 

    The emergence of Lamine Yamal, who became the youngest player to feature for La Roja at the Euros, had the most touches in the opposition box (six), created the joint-most chances (three), and grabbed an assist for Dani Carvajal's first international goal. 

    Alvaro Morata, who is captaining his side for the first time at a major tournament, became Spain's outright second-highest goalscorer at major international tournaments, behind only David Villa (13). 

    Indeed, in European Championship history, only Cristiano Ronaldo and Michel Platini have netted more goals than Morata (seven).

    Spain will continue to boast the majority of possession in most of their upcoming fixtures, but under De la Fuente, they have found a new way of playing. 

    7 - Only Cesc Fàbregas (8 - 3 goals, 5 assists) has been involved in more #EUROs goals for #Spain  than Álvaro Morata (7 - 7 goals, the same as Fernando Torres and David Silva). Reference. #Euro2024 pic.twitter.com/dfGTdjuai3

    — OptaJose (@OptaJose) June 15, 2024

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Italy - Nicolo Barella

    Over the years, the Italy midfield has been filled with a plethora of talent that has won international honours. Nicolo Barella will be regarded as one of those should he help the Azzurri clinch their second straight Euros crown. 

    Barella has been directly involved in five goals in his last seven appearances for Italy (two goals, three assists), with his strike against Albania seeing him score in successive international appearances for the first time since June 2019.

    The Inter midfielder's combination of tenacity and composure was on show once more, completing 105 of his 108 passes in the Azzurri's opening game of the tournament, the highest pass completion rate (97.2 percent) of those who featured in the starting line-up. 

    10 - Among the players currently in the Italian national team  Nicolò #Barella has scored the most goals for the Azzurri (10). Star. #EURo2024 #ITAALB pic.twitter.com/B2RIhHFw2H

    — OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) June 15, 2024

    The saying of the battle being won in midfield is often thrown around rather lazily in modern football, but this certainly could be the case in Gelsenkirchen. 

    Spain - Fabian Ruiz

    Attempting to halt the Italian midfield will be Ruiz, who marked his 24th appearance for his country with just his third international goal against Croatia. 

    The 28-year-old was directly involved in two of Spain’s three goals in their opening game, assisting Alvaro Morata and scoring La Roja's second. 

    Since making his national team debut in June 2019, only Jordi Alba (nine) has made more assists for Spain than the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder (eight).

    But Ruiz's defensive discipline also aided Spain in keeping a clean sheet against Croatia, with the former Napoli star winning four of his five duels during the contest in Berlin, while also having a pass accuracy of 90.7 per cent from 54 attempted passes. 

  • Mainoo pleased to have 'peace of mind' over ten Hag decision Mainoo pleased to have 'peace of mind' over ten Hag decision

    Kobbie Mainoo is pleased to have “peace of mind” over the future of Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag.

    The Dutchman looked set to be sacked following a disappointing season, only to lead United to FA Cup success against Manchester City last month.

    Mainoo, who is away with England at Euro 2024, scored the decisive goal in the 2-1 win at Wembley to cap off an impressive debut year for the 19-year-old. 

    Following United's 13th FA Cup success, a post-season review ultimately led to Ten Hag being told he would remain in charge at Old Trafford under the new ownership. 

    Mainoo is preparing for the Three Lions' second group game against Denmark on Thursday, having made his international tournament debut against Serbia as a late substitute. 

    When asked for his verdict on United’s decision to keep ten Hag, Mainoo was thankful for his head coach after his maiden season with the first team. 

    'I am so GRATEFUL for Erik ten Hag, I can't thank him enough!' Kobbie Mainoo#manutd #mufc #eriktenhag

    Full press conference on the BeanymanSports YouTube channel https://t.co/XK0O6uf59H pic.twitter.com/QIZ5eq5xbI

    — BeanymanSports (@BeanymanSports) June 18, 2024

    "Obviously, (I am) happy to be building with him," Mainoo said. "He’s already got two trophies, hopefully there’s more to come. 

    "It’s nice to have that peace of mind that we know what manager we’re going back to in the new season.

    "I’m so grateful for him that he put so much trust in me and belief in me to play in the team. Yeah, I can’t thank him enough."

    Mainoo made 32 appearances across all competitions, scoring five goals, ultimately resulting in his inclusion in the 26-man squad that travelled to Germany, picked ahead of the likes of James Maddison, Jordan Henderson, and Jack Grealish. 

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